The return of cold temperatures boosts your reliance on home heating equipment every fall. If your furnace isn’t operating correctly, it could become a fire hazard and threaten your family’s safety.
As stated by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), heating equipment is a major cause of home fires, contributing to nearly 50,000 blazes, 500 civilian deaths and more than $1 billion in direct property damage every year. Space heaters and fireplaces cause the majority of fires concerning heating equipment, but central heaters, like furnaces, are liable for just about 12% of these blazes. Find out more about the most likely causes of furnace fires and how to avoid them.
Causes of Furnace Fires
Older furnaces are more vulnerable to safety concerns as they may be manufactured differently and fall into disrepair through the years. Still, whether your furnace is more than a decade old or brand new, you should be aware of these causes of furnace fires.
A furnace motor can overheat in several ways. Here are the main risks:
- A clogged filter can block airflow and force the motor to work longer. Eventually, the motor may overheat, elevating the risk of fire.
- Dirt can collect around and cover up the motor, forcing it to retain heat, which can lead to a fire.
- Exposed or damaged wiring can cause the voltage to elevate, increasing the chances of an electrical fire.
- Excessively tight or worn motor bearings can heat up as the furnace starts. Without adequate lubrication, the bearings may eventually catch fire.
Clogged Furnace Flue
Yard debris, animal nests and other obstructions can block the furnace flue, lowering oxygen. This results in soot buildup and bad ventilation, decreasing efficiency and raising the risk of flame rollout. Flame rollout is when fire escapes the heat exchanger and burns the parts inside your furnace. If this problem persists, your heating equipment may be severely damaged, and the fire can spread to areas outside the furnace.
Obstructed Heat Exchanger
The heat exchanger is a closed combustion chamber where the heat created by your furnace transfers to the air circulating within your home. A heat exchanger clogged with soot or corrosion has the same impact as a blocked furnace flue—reduced performance and an increased risk of flame rollout.
Cracked Heat Exchanger
Numerous problems occur if corrosion damages the heat exchanger. First, it reduces suction within this chamber, leading to less airflow and increased flame rollout. Second, it emits fumes, like carbon monoxide, into your home. Breathing CO gas can be lethal, so never ignore your carbon monoxide alarms. CO gas can also flash back to the source of the leak and ignite if a flame is found.
Improper Gas Pressure
Furnaces need a precise combination of natural gas and air to ensure safe and efficient combustion. Too little pressure is often because of clogged burner orifices. This problem makes the burner flames more likely to roll out. It also leads to unwanted condensation inside the heat exchanger, accelerating the rate of corrosion.
Conversely, high gas pressure can lead to excessive heat in the furnace, which can cause the soot inside the heat exchanger to combust. Such fires can easily spread to other areas.
How to Prevent Furnace Fires
Based on the various ways a furnace can combust, here are the steps you can take to prevent furnace fires:
- Replace the air filter consistently: Check the filter monthly and change it when it appears dirty or every three months, whichever comes first.
- Check the furnace flue: Inspect the exterior vent for obstructions and clear out any you find.
- Don’t place combustible items around the furnace: Things such as cardboard boxes, paper, clothing and other combustibles should be kept at a minimum 3 feet away from the furnace and any other heating equipment.
- Install a flame rollout switch: This safety component detects if a fire or hot exhaust gases are inside your furnace’s burner compartment. If the rollout switch triggers, have your furnace inspected promptly to diagnose and repair the problem before it produces a furnace fire.
- Schedule yearly furnace maintenance: It isn’t always easy to notice if your furnace is operating unsafely. Whether you notice warning signs or not, don't forget furnace maintenance every fall.
Schedule Furnace Services Today
Is it time for your annual tune-up? Do you need help taking care of a problem with your furnace? Whatever the reason, Church Services is here for you. Our HVAC experts can inspect, clean and test the system to ensure safe operation. If anything seems off, we’ll recommend a repair or a modification, offering you peace of mind that your furnace is unlikely to catch fire. For more information or to schedule furnace maintenance, please contact your local Church Services office